Christmas at Londa! “But where else?”, comes a chorus in unison – and a typical reply from the hotel’s ever-growing family of devoted guests. Returning year after year for that special boutique blend of modern lifestyle experience gently wrapped in a traditional Cyprus, festive glow.
As ever, Executive chef, Michael Vassos of Londa’s Italian-styled Caprice Restaurant has put together another one of his fantastic Festive Christmas and New Year Menus. Every last detail is in place and an air of calm anticipation gently settles around the lobby area. Across Cyprus, the spirit of Christmas is already stirring by 6th December – the Feast of St. Nicholas – and joyous celebrations will continue right through until the Feast of Epiphany on 6th January.
As the big day draws near, iconic traditional recipes are once again being popped into heated ovens everywhere. From urban centres and coastal districts, such as Limassol, to the many villages tucked away in the Troodos mountains at the island’s centre, and across the Marathasa and Cedar valleys.
The first act is the decorating of the Christmas Tree and the hanging up of the Christmas stockings. But as with most occasions in Cyprus, the journey really begins in the kitchen!
“Kourabiedes” and “Melomakarona” – who cannot resist those festive table staples
Preparing the traditional Cyprus dishes and delicacies for eagerly awaited, festive consumption is all-important! They are sure to appear everywhere but who cannot resist those festive table staples, “Kourabiedes” and “Melomakarona”. Especially if you have a very sweet tooth!
Instantly recognisable, Kourabiedes are a crescent or spherical shaped shortbread, usually made with almonds and baked to a lightly golden colour. They are then normally rolled in icing sugar while still hot to form a rich butter-sugar coating. Further tongue tingling taste is added by flavouring with vanilla, rose water or brandy, such as the Greek spirit, Metaxa. The making of ‘Christmas’ Kourabiedes can sometimes also involve embedding a single whole spice clove within each biscuit.
Melomakarona are traditional “Christmas” honey cookies filled with dates and nuts, and alongside Kourabiedes, are mostly prepared only for the festive period. Classic ingredients consist of flour or semolina, sugar, orange zest and/or fresh juice, cognac, cinnamon, olive oil, and often filled with ground walnuts. Once baked, the cookies are further sweetened by immersing for a few seconds in hot syrup made of honey, and sugar dissolved in water. A final refinement is to decorate with more pieces of walnut or given a modern twist by covering in dark chocolate.
Traditional Christmas Cake – and a small pig prepared on Palm Sunday
It was a custom in the villages of Cyprus for each family to buy a small pig on Palm Sunday, which would be consumed on Christmas Day. Portions would be steeped in salt, wine and coriander then hung up to be smoked or made into sausages.
It should also be mentioned that every Cypriot household is almost certain to have a “Christmas Cake” permanently adorning the festive table. The usual ingredients comprise dried fruit and nuts with white icing spread over the top to represent snow, and Christmas decorations. What else might you expect to see on a traditional Cyprus Christmas table? There are so many different dishes and recipes, and possible variations that may appear but some have become enduring favourites…
Christopsomo, Soup of Frumenty and Souvla – an authentic tradition
One item that may be present refers more directly to the religious celebration. A special sweet yeast bread called “Gennopitta” is prepared on Christmas Eve, which is known as “Christopsomo” as it is specifically decorated with the symbol of the cross. It is intended to be eaten on Christmas Day along with other traditional dishes, such as soup of frumenty – made with boiled cracked wheat and soured milk – or soup of egg lemon, stuffed turkey or “Souvla” – roasted lamb or pork meat cooked on charcoal.
For first time visitors and returning guests, alike, Christmas in Cyprus offers a truly ‘living’ immersive experience. As with so many celebrations throughout the year, a special time filled with a fascinating mix of preserved authentic traditions, influenced by more than two thousand years at the heart of diverse Mediterranean cultures.
More intriguing customs in our next post on celebrating New Year in Cyprus…